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Thursday, January 22, 2009


On Tuesday the record's commentator made a typically disparaging attack on the £22 million spent on the Beagle 2, which for all that money didn't even manage to find life on Mars. I wrote this which appears today with the philosophical bits [] taken out. Though it is not the first letter printed it is the longest today. I slightly cheat in accusing him of wanting to spend £500 billion on bank bailouts - what he said was on business bailouts & then included banks on the list, on the other hand that will implicitly cost more than the £500 bn so it evens out. I also don't mention that ESA have now taken over the Beagle project & with the help of a Parliamentary Committee who accused them of inefficiency, now intend to spend 10 times as much next time. Left in its originator's hands they could indeed deliver a better probe for the same cost & if necessary do so 10 times but this would run the risk of succeeding without producing more jobs for ESA bureaucrats, which is what ESA does even more successfully than NASA.

John McKie says he prefers spending £500 billion on bailing out banks to £22 million on the Beagle 2 [venture (Tuesday). His choice, but] may I point out that it is only attempts to push the technological envelope which ultimately create new wealth. [Banking is just a way of keeping score & the present mess is because, as a society, we have not been pushing that envelope indeed, while subsidising windmill we drive our best GM scientists to Singapore.]

OK the Beagle spacecraft didn't work but that is the nature of trying new things. The design work has already been done & producing an improved duplicate would cost far less. [Finding out whether we are alone in the universe may not interest him but it is the question behind all religions so it has been of some interest to most of humanity for thousands of years.]

Going to the Moon is pretty much the only government programme which has paid for itself. Without it we would have no telecom satellites or weather satellites & it is easy to prove that it cost much less than the billions saved (let alone lives) solely by early forecasting of where hurricanes strike. The shameful thing is that Britain has done so little. It has been calculated that a prize of £700 million would be likely to succeed (& cost zero if it wasn't won) in delivering a fleet of orbital craft able to put people in orbit for a price comparable to flying to Australia. I suggest that that would be better way out of recession & cost barely 1000th as John's preferred bank bail outs.

Neil Craig

Ref the cost of an X-Prize for a commercial orbital vehicle

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